Tuesday, 29 May 2007

Just Looking

Informed Comment is on my Links. Every morning I take a deep breath and press the blue line. Day after day the horrors of Iraq roll on and over; Juan Cole reports and explains, plainly, clearly, no sensationalism no (thank goodness) pictures.

But I have to force myself to look. Our government helped to do this, at least I can read each day's results.

Monday, 28 May 2007

Leaving Home

There are comments here and there and all over noting how many people have left England in recent years.

Raedwald ended a recent post asking 'So when would you have decided to leave Germany? 1934? 1937? Or would you have stayed?' After thinking about it for ages, I would have stayed until circumstances were quite desperate and it would have been too late.

Leaving isn't open to most people. In the best of circumstances it's a hard, sad business, even when there are open arms and open houses at the other end.

Leaving means there must be a destination, and most people haven't got one because they have only one nationality, and a British passport doesn't go anywhere near as far as it used to.

Anywhere in the European Union? Well, yes at the moment, but current rights of residence and employment are just that, current, and the UK rejected joining Schengen, and has placed restrictions on incoming EU nationals, which didn't help. The Commonwealth countries? We aren't particularly courteous to their nationals, Old or New Commonwealth, and they've noticed. The rest of the world? Much of it is very dangerous, and the US and the Russian Federation are hard to settle in.

Acquiring another nationality is hard too; the best way is by marriage, and even that doesn't always confer rights of residence and permanence; and it is even less competent to do so for all of the family.

If you want to take your wealth there are severe regulations that take considerable time to overcome, existing in the name of anti-terrorism financial controls.

Work? The equivalent qualifications must be registered, and the real know -how gained, as well as the language, the contacts; did enough wealth come too, to set up a business?

And if all these difficulties are managed, can the family cope with what they can't even see coming most of the time? And can you help them with not weeks or months, but years of support, explanation, sortings out, understanding, kindness in the face of ill- founded resentment ?

Most important of all, can you persuade yourself that everyone around you is not secretly thinking and acting out every aspect of their lives in English only to deliberately hide this self-evident truth in French, German, Italian, whatever, whenever you are around?

Bleeding Labour

The Labour party is losing even more members as the bullying arrogance of Gordon Brown's and Jack Straw's exclusion of even a constituency, union and other membership vote sinks in.

The behaviour of the outgoing Executive in this wholly unconstitutional inter-regnum, signing up for the European Constitution (again) if it can, plus the criminalizing of all living beings in England (though not Scotland) who do not 'walk down the street looking neither to right nor left and breathing evenly through their noses', and the locking up as mad for compulsory medical treatment any person communicating settled dislike for the corrupt and criminal Executive, has added further losses, as the disillusioned membership watches the antics of the deputy Leadership sack race.

They should remember that the Labour party knows where they live.

Labour Executive Lies

The widespread discussion of encroaching state power over civil liberties is admirable and shows we're not accepting the Labour party Executive's behaviour as reasonable.

The silence, on matters so central to the relationship of individuals and the political authority they cede to government, on the part of the Labour party's Leader in waiting (he cannot be called Leader-elect as he's Leader-imposed) is of Holmesian proportions. We must take it that he likes it all, particularly as none of it applies to Scotland.

Peculiarly distasteful is the revelation of measures, backed up by specialised staff and a 'secure' unit, to detain at will and without review or judicial means of intervention, any person indicated as communicating a threat to public figures.

'Persone in vista', coupled with the infamous 'lei non sa chi sono io' (you don't know who I am) is the hallmark of authoritarian attitudes to those who should be regarded as the givers of authority.

Guevara's understanding that a socialist society could never exist without first a socialist conciousness in man, applies equally to authoritarianism of any kind. The condemnatory response to Labour's behaviour, ranging across the political spectrum from far left to far right and taking in all of us except the minority statist conformists of the Labour cadres, illuminates this:

No-one in the United Kingdom accepts the need for any of the so-called 'terrorism' laws. All recognize that the country is more vulnerable than others to targetting (and whose fault is that?) but just as in the years of the Troubles in Ireland, we will keep or vigilance high, and keep our liberties.

Saturday, 26 May 2007


Edited down to facts alone, this seems helpful when considering what factors are influencing today's politics in the UK. Fill in who signed what at the appropriate dates.
1948 The European Union of Federalists organises a Congress at The Hague in the hope of drawing up a European constitution. But the UK rejects the federal approach and the result is the Council of Europe a loose grouping that becomes a guardian of Europe's human rights.
1949 NATO
The Washington Treaty is signed by the USA Canada and 10 Western European states Britain France the Benelux countries Iceland Italy Norway and Portugal.
1950 The Schuman Declaration
French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman announces a plan for France and Germany to pool coal and steel production and invites other states to join them. Solidarity in production would make war between France and Germany "not merely unthinkable but materially impossible."
1951 Treaty of Paris, European Coal and Steel Community
Six countries sign the treaty France Germany the Benelux states and Italy. It sets up a High Authority to manage the coal and steel industries and a Common Assembly a precursor of the European parliament. The Dutch supported by the Germans also insist on the creation of a Council of Ministers made up of ministers from member states to counterbalance the supranational High Authority.
1952 The ECSC begins work with Jean Monnet at its head
The ECSC guarantees German coal to the French steel industry. It also provides funds to upgrade Belgian and Italian coal mines. Germany agrees to this and to the dismantling of its steel cartels.
1954 The European Defence Community
The USA insists that Europe must contribute more to its own defence and that Germany must rearm. In 1952 the six ECSC members agree to create a European Defence Community which envisages German soldiers joining a European army. But the French parliament delays ratification and ultimately rejects the idea in 1954.
1957 The Treaty of Rome
The six members of the ECSC sign the Treaty of Rome setting up the European Economic Community EEC and the European Atomic Energy Community Euratom. The EEC aims to create a common market a customs union plus free movement of capital and labour. To please France it also promises subsidies to farmers. Euratom's goal is the joint development of nuclear energy.
1958 The EEC
The EEC starts work and quickly establishes itself as the most important of the European communities. It has a commission a council of ministers and an advisory parliamentary assembly whose members are drawn from national parliaments. At the same time the European Court of Justice comes into existence to interpret the Treaty of Rome and rule in disputes over Community decisions.
1960 EFTA is launched
An alternative to the EEC emerges when Austria Denmark Norway Portugal Sweden Switzerland and the UK set up EFTA the European Free Trade Association. Like the EEC EFTA aims to establish free trade but it opposes uniform external tariffs and sees no need for supranational institutions.
1961 Britain Denmark and Ireland apply to join the EEC
The UK's decision to apply for membership of the EEC was taken by the government of Harold Macmillan.
1963 Charles de Gaulle vetoes British membership
saying that the British government lacks commitment to European integration.
1967 Treaty creating a single Council and a Commission for the three communities.
1968 The European Community customs union.
1973 Britain Denmark and Ireland join
The three countries and Norway had failed to join 10 years earlier. This time all sign an accession treaty in 1972 but Norwegians reject it in a referendum later in the year. Denmark and Ireland hold successful referendums. The UK does not hold a referendum until 1975 after renegotiating its entry terms the result is twotoone in favour.
1979 the EMS
The European Monetary System EMS introduces the European currency unit Ecu and the exchange rate mechanism ERM. The Ecu a unit for the communitys internal budget also takes on some of the features of a real currency it is used for travellers cheques and bank deposits. The ERM gives national currencies an exchange rate band denominated in Ecus. All EC members join except the UK.
1981 Greece becomes the ECs 10th member
1984 The UK wins its budget rebate
1985 Jacques Delors
proposes that the European Community should by the end of 1992 remove a series of barriers to free trade and free movement of capital and labour creating a "single market" , a necessity if Europe is to compete with the United States.
1986 Portugal and Spain join the EC and the European flag is unveiled
1987 The Single European Act
modifies the Treaty of Rome to complete the formation of a common market which the earlier treaty had begun. It abolishes national vetoes in areas relating to the single market increases the legislative powers of the European parliament and makes the first commitment by member states to create a "European Union".
1988 Regional aid is doubled
Market liberalisation benefits the more developed northern European member states so allocations for structural funds paid to poorer regions are doubled.
1990 Britain enters the ERM
1991 Maastricht turns the Community into a Union
It paves the way for monetary union and includes a chapter on social policy. The UK negotiates an optout on both. The treaty also introduces European citizenship giving Europeans the right to live and vote in elections in any EU country and launches European cooperation in foreign affairs security asylum and immigration.
1992 The UK is forced out of the ERM
The ERM was intended to harmonise currency values ahead of creating a single currency. In an effort to bolster the £ which had been devalued by the unstable market the UK government raises base rates; continued selling forces the £ out of the ERM.
1993 The Treaty on European Union comes into effect
The Maastricht Treaty ; Danes rejected it in June 1992 ,accepted it in a second vote in May 1993 after receiving an optout on monetary union like the UK .
1995 Borders come down as a result of the Schengen pact
France Germany Portugal Spain and the Benelux countries drop border controls except on the EUs external borders followed later by Austria Italy Denmark Finland Sweden and Greece but not the UK or Ireland. Austria Finland and Sweden joined the EU at the start of 1995 taking membership to 15. Norway would have joined if voters had not rejected the move in a second referendum.
1997 The Amsterdam Treaty is signed
to get the EU ready for its eastward expansion. More national vetoes are abolished. Laws on employment and discrimination are strengthened and the social chapter of the Maastricht treaty becomes an official part of EU law. The Schengen agreement also becomes law though Ireland and the UK maintain their optouts. This gives the EU more say on immigration and asylum.
1998 Enlargement
Accession negotiations open with Cyprus the Czech Republic Estonia Hungary Poland and Slovenia. A year later the EU opens membership talks with Romania Slovakia Latvia Lithuania Bulgaria and Malta.
1999 Crisis at the commission fraud and resignation
Romano Prodi becomes the new president of the commission promising radical change in the way it is run after all 20 commissioners including President Jacques Santer resign before the parliament sacks them. Only a handful of the old commissioners are reappointed.
2002 National currencies replaced by euro notes and coins
The euro came into existence in 1999 as the official currency of 11 countries. Greece adopted the currency two years later though Sweden Denmark and the UK stayed out.
2003 Plans for a European constitution set back
A convention headed by Valery Giscard dEstaing drafts the EUs first constitution to simplify the EU treaties, to make the EU more easily understood by its citizens and to help it work efficiently after enlargement meets disagreement.
2004 The EU enlarges and a new constitution is signed
Enlargement goes ahead on 1 May 2004. Elections to the European parliament in June 2004 the sixth since European polls began in 1979 are held in 25 countries from Ireland to Cyprus and Malta to Finland. On 29 October EU leaders sign a new constitution in the room where the Treaty of Rome was signed.
2005 No votes cause constitution crisis.
Voters in referendums in France and the Netherlands reject their governments plans to ratify the EU constitution, the constitution cannot come into effect unless it is ratified by all 25 member states. The European Union continues on the basis of existing treaties.
2006 Majority of member states ratify the new constitution
2007 New candidates admitted
Romania and Bulgaria become member states on 1 January 2007.

Thursday, 24 May 2007

The In and Out

The Constitution of the European Union, or to be more precise, the Treaty for a European Constitution seems unstoppable. What is under discussion now is what alteration is tolerable to the member states who have deposited the ratified Treaty with the Italian government, or are about to do so, their ratification procedures being almost complete.

In a speech to the European parliament in Strasbourg Romano Prodi, Prime Minister of Italy, and sometime President of the European Commission thus with intimate knowledge of the workings of the European Union, laid it out.

The five central tenets of: the reinforcing of a European Union foreign policy in combination with the appointment of a European Union Foreign Minister; the election of a fixed President of the Commission; the installation of qualified majority voting; the streamlining of decision taking on the basis of the tri-partite decisional structures; and the creation of a juridical identity for the European Union, stand.

For a man of such notable mildness of manner and speech it was surprising to read his words and agree with La Repubblica’s description of them as like whip lashes. Until now the Eurosceptic member states, led by the United Kingdom and Poland, had not felt the iron beneath the velvet; what is apparent now is that there is a worked out policy for dealing with attempts to divert the European Union from further developing towards its goal of a federalised Union with power devolved to the lowest possible level under democratic governance, and with a unified monetary, fiscal and economic stance supported by a common foreign policy.

Mr Sarkozy has ruled out a referendum in France for the ratification of the Treaty; further, he has underlined Mr Prodi’s stance in calling for much greater levels of fiscal and economic integration among those member states that are within the Eurozone. At the moment the United Kingdom has observer status at Eurozone meetings; that could easily be withdrawn. A courtesy proffered in the expectation of future membership begins to be burdensome when Brown’s silly tests are understood as determination to stay out at all costs. While Britain and Denmark have especially negotiated opt-outs from joining the Euro, and which appear to have been mis-used, certainly by Brown, - no other member state has, despite Poland’s weird intention to hold a referendum on the demise of the zloty .

Refusal to accede to the euro is a clear indicator that there is a two-speed Union; the peripheral UK, Poland, Denmark etc. ,under the Treaty voting system, will find themselves back not in some present day version of a European free trade area facing the Common Market, but in Europe as it is today, excluded from the central engine house of the European Union and its decisions.

Many in the United Kingdom will welcome this, and not regret the weakening of the forces tearing apart the union of the United Kingdom. Others might prefer to withdraw altogether, and reinforce our links with the Commonwealth.

But the European policy of the last 10 years pursued by the Labour party’s Executive, to prevent the growth of a federal Europe, is in tatters.

Wednesday, 23 May 2007

Bereft but hungry

I have been looking at a copy of French Cooking for English Homes, edited and with recipes by Chester, Chef at the Hotel Chatham, Paris (London, Thornton Butterworth, 1923). "This book does not profess to be a complete manual of cooking, but rather a collection of recipes with a few hints for the use of the servantless lady, who, in these difficult post-war days, is reduced to doing her own cooking."

From time to time you may care to share some of the contents. I offer this evening:

Pluviers Rotis (Roast Plovers).

Wrap each plover in a sheet of buttered paper, grill them on a skewer, and serve on fried toast.

Tuesday, 22 May 2007

Black holes in the Mediterranean

The pleasures of staying here begin with the sight of the Mediterranean reaching from the end of the garden to infinity. Then there are the comforts of an English middle class house with all its settled, slightly scruffy but well-polished usedness - the occasional small garden tool resting under a chair - it’s a pair of blue-handled shears I can see from here - and the furniture conversing quietly in shuttered sitting rooms, combined with wickedly soft French beds to lie in, while listening to the sea, and passing trains.

The books are everywhere, shelved in alcoves and lining rooms. Not paperbacks (there are those too, in piles and cupboards) but proper books in solid bindings with gold lettering, heavy enough to need one of those tables with patterns let into the top that stand around not looking too useful until Lord Curzon of Keddlestone’s account of life in India is taken down and weighs so much it has to rest on one of them.

Lord C. got into a dreadful bate about the denial of the Black Hole of Calcutta atrocity by later, indigenous historians, writing a century and more afterwards. He gives 20 or so pages of contemporary accounts, travellers’ tales, drawings of the monument erected over the ditch where the bodies were thrown the next morning (with asides on the inborn incapacity of French and other non-English observers to correctly recount anything they saw, never mind these matters).

He locates the exact site of the notorious store room, since over built, outlines the original old fortress in brass lines let into ground and extant buildings; the floor area of the Hole itself he has laid with black marble.

The first monument having been demolished after falling into dereliction, he has a life-size statue of an illustrious former statesman moved from where he has occupied the site, and builds a fine monument in lasting materials (marble shipped from southern Italy) paid for from his own pocket; he even adds to the numbers of the commemorated and finds out their Christian names. After having carved on another face of the monument a harsh condemnation of the Nabob responsible, and a brief account of the even harsher reprisals taken against him, he reckons the whole thing is nailed.

Mentioning this at dinner, someone said, ” Oh, I was reading something recently about the Black Hole of Calcutta and that it was all made up to justify later repressive measures against the local rulers’ resistance."

Did I hear ‘sigh’ from Lord Curzon in the next door room?

Thursday, 17 May 2007

Garden glory

I have gone to see the Hanbury gardens, and others further along the coast. Back on Monday.

Mussolini was better looking

Cries of 'Duce, Duce, Duce..' are echoing. Year I begins today, though formally on 24 June. Will it take us until Year XXI for civil war to break out?

Even the post modern imperialism of the Abyssinian invasions is reborn in the post modern imperialist adventures in Iraq.

Wednesday, 16 May 2007


Familiarity with Italian political and religious culture has given little insight into British political life, until the last decade. This evening the United Kingdom is on the verge of becoming a fully blown corporatist state. At the close of nominations for the leadership of the Labour party at noon tomorrow a corporatist political party will crown its stalinoid candidate for the office of prime minister, and all the executive powers of Crown prerogative will fall under their control.

It is a truism that history never repeats itself; but the evils associated with authoritarian state corporatism will act, are acting already, even if in a fashion transformed but recognisable from over half a century ago.

Individual liberties have been abolished, even habeas corpus; evidence obtained by torture is readmitted into legal proceedings; the right to be secure from delivery into another criminal jurisdiction has been abrogated; trial by jury limited; the freedom to go about lawful business without a requirement to identify oneself is gone; failure to proffer information on statuses and wealth is criminalised; no one may conduct their life within the law without constantly proving their conformity.

A network of appointed state officials has siphoned off the authority and funding of elected local authority; large sectors of society no longer form their exchanges and relationships with one another in families and familial structures, but with the state as it advances into every aspect of private life by means testing and regulation, the creation of moral hazard.

We never experienced the first round of these systems' establishment - indeed our grandfathers fought them. So they are not recognized for the threat they present to a proper and democratic political system, and a moral way of life.

Monday, 14 May 2007

Room with a view

Positional goods render equality impossible. Time sharing helps to equalise access to positional goods, so do queues, but some are indivisible always. I am not sharing my house with anybody.
A list: POSH; Oxbridge (actually, Cambridge); kingship; London, Paris, Rome, Berlin (ho ho).

Most of us spend most of our time making do with positional bads, not determined by prior ownership or price, but by access, class, caste, inheritance. Sigh.

Sunday, 13 May 2007

Stranded Assets

A friend sorting an elderly aunt's possessions found a neatly labelled box, full of 'pieces of string now too short to be of use'.

Other stranded assets are worth listing: lard; confessionals; castles; canals; brown coal; South Crofty; 2 years' old computers; local democracy; trades unions; nation states; Paul Wolfowitz; the IMF; the United Nations; Limbo.

An initial list of over valued assets includes: London houses; sterling; the dollar; central bank independence; Gordon Brown; papal infallibility; chastity; Paradise.

It should be noted that Hell holds its value.

Friday, 11 May 2007

Monarchy and the Democratic State

The hollowed-out pumpkin that is the office of our country’s head of state has been displayed fully in the last week.

The Prime Minister has offered his resignation in the Trimdon Social Club.

The Labour party has designated the incoming prime minister.

The date of the handover has been fixed in private discussion between members of the Executive.

Bearing in mind behaviour exhibited over the courtesy of wearing formal dress at formal and official dinners, the chances of the kissing of hands and acknowledgement of higher authority are poor.

All powers denominated Crown prerogatives now rest with the Executive and, more specifically, with the prime minister of the day. What and who the prime minister answers to is no longer a Constitution, or its custodian the Head of State.

It is 30 years since the office of head of state showed any signs of constitutional life. Discretion is a virtue but this obscurity veils powerlessness and inaction while our Constitution is lopped of its limbs, and our liberties consumed.

Nor is it a Parliament to which the exercise of power is answerable, when the majority party is responsive to particular organisations and interest groups with their own objectives and factional discipline, rather than answerable to the whole electorate, and to those too who are without a vote.

The respect for the Crown even now connects to the mystic notion of powers devolved from God. More importantly the immense regard in which the present monarch is held has been cynically appropriated to project an emotional narrative of safety and security in the enjoyment of our lives.

Monarchy, constitutional or no , lies uneasily with democracy. So now we are faced with government by an appointed prime minister, an appointed countrywide nomenklatura , unchallenged in office and in power by the undefended and severely damaged permanent constitutional structures of the state.

Thursday, 10 May 2007

How Many Children Had Lady Macbeth?

There is an approach to political understanding that has much in common with that Shakespearean criticism dominated by "the assumption that Shakespeare was pre-eminently a great 'creator of characters'". Of course political commentators occupy themselves not with "How Many Children Had Lady Macbeth?" rather, "The nature of the relationship between Brown and Blair ”, but they need to be Knighted just as much.

Knights' insight, that "the only profitable approach to Shakespeare is a consideration of his plays as dramatic poems, of his use of language to obtain a total complex emotional response" applies just as well to the New Labour Project;
Blair’s years should be understood as just such an attempt “to obtain a total complex emotional response" .

Knights writes,
“ Macbeth [i.e. the New Labour Project] is a statement of evil. I use the word "statement" (unsatisfactory as it is) in order to stress those qualities that are "non-dramatic," if drama is defined according to the canons of William Archer or Dr. Bradley. It also happens to be poetry, [harder to argue for the Project, but it shares the abstraction of values and their presentation, rather than policies and their delivery] which means that the apprehension of the whole can only be obtained from a lively attention to the parts, whether they have an immediate bearing on the main action or "illustrate character," or not. Two main themes, which can only be separated for the purpose of analysis, are blended in the play [the Project]—the themes of the reversal of values and of unnatural disorder. And closely related to each is a third theme, that of the deceitful appearance, and consequent doubt, uncertainty and confusion. All this is obscured by false assumptions about the category "drama" [or politics]. Each theme is stated in the first act [i.e. since 1997]... every word...[which] will bear the closest scrutiny, strikes one dominant chord:

Faire is foule, and foule is faire,
Hover through the fogge and filthie ayre.

It is worth remarking that "Hurley-burley" implies more than the tumult of sedition or insurrection." Both it and "when the Battaile's lost, and wonne" suggest the kind of metaphysical pitch-and-toss... played with good and evil. At the same time we hear the undertone of uncertainty... the scene [i.e. the beginning of the Project] expresses the same movement as the play/Project as a whole: the general crystallizes into the immediate particular ("Where the place?"—"Upon the Heath.") and then dissolves again into the general presentment of hideous gloom [or, in the Project’s case, general presentment of vainglorious achievement].

Just as Knights traces the development of the reversal of values, unnatural disorder, and deceitful appearance themes, these themes can be traced too through the New Labour Project. Macbeth /Blair’s "ruin is never complete. [though Shakespeare in My way of life / Is fall'n into the sere, the yellow leaf, and "To morrow, and tomorrow" has quite an edge over Blair’s echoic speech writer]. To the end he never totally loses our sympathy... In the very depths a gleam of his native love of goodness, and with it a tinge of tragic grandeur, rests upon him." [precisely what Blair was after].

But ‘to concentrate attention on the personal implications of these lines [Macbeth /Blair’s] is to obscure the fact that they have an even more important function as the keystone of the system of values that gives emotional coherence to the play/ Project .
While "total complex emotional response ", is not all about themes and a "system of values ", political commentary about character is too common while in-depth examination of themes and values, rather scarce.

(Probably this could be boiled down into a couple of sentences; but L.C. Knights explains it so well, hence the extensive quotes. Today’s Blair speech, emotionally distasteful as it was, was all about evoking Project values and responses. It’s a different kind of politics, not within shouting distance of Shakespeare's manipulations of the world, cheapened, but a derivative).

The Writing on the Wall

There is a view that graffiti are an art form, a form of social protest, the assertion of involvment and ownership over city buildings by the propertyless, a communication system between street gangs, a means of demarking territories, a taking possession of an environment that alienates the writers, and the highest form of expression of their values and beliefs that the writers can achieve, thus to be valued as such.

It may be that some environments do cry out for such response, soul- destroying in their ugly oppressiveness. It may be that the expression of emotion through visual elaboration is to be considered with eyes that value relative not absolute achievment. Should the writing of graffiti on surfaces that are themselves parts of art works be judged more harshly than the wholesale destruction of war?

But if the choices made by graffiti writers in: covering Brunelleschi’s magnificent Rotunda in all its golden stone glory, in a black statement of anarchy’s triumph; tagging Ammannati’s great palazzi lining via degli Alfani, altering for ever their age -acquired patinas of stone and intonaco; writing on every great, two storey high courtyard gates that open from the Borgo Pinti into gardens and terraces that delight the eye as it gazes in from the curving stone street, are their comment on the work of the artists and craftsmen that made this all -of- a -piece vision of renaissance harmony, they should be struck dumb, or preferably, dead.

Wednesday, 9 May 2007

A Commonplace Book

Newmania is condemned to travelling in a train for some hours a day. Just the thing for keeping a commonplace book, I thought. But why must commonplace books be produced only in train thrall? I am going to consult Auden, then make a start - a free-range commonplace book.

Beeching's legacy

If when in Italy I meet someone from England, they often say they live in London. When I am in London and meet someone from Italy they are likely to come from almost anywhere on the peninsula. Of course the explanation lies in the meaning of the word London.

Hatfield once could never have been included in the answer London. People who wanted to have their families grow up in cleaner, greener surroundings accepted up to 20 miles as the reasonable commute (16 minutes Hatfield to King's Cross, non-stop) and settled in Hertfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Surrey, Essex... all the pretty towns and villages within the 20 miles. There were trains till midnight and after that it was the mail and milk trains at 3 and 4 o'clock in the morning.

Now there are commuters covering up to 100 miles each way. Those hours travelling are devastating to every kind of social network both in central London and in the communities pressed into London service. Devastating too to the families deprived of those travelling hours, and via such dangerous and inadequate services that can no longer be avoided by taking to choked roads and closed inner London.

Why do Italians live from Aosta to Lecce, happy to answer to Florentine, Roman, Mantovan, Venetian, Sicilian... indeed proud to be so, when we are scrunched up in old trains, uprooted from early lives and communities, without family homes, and living not a cycle of family life and its transformations, but only in the here and now.

Was it Beeching and his ilk who tore up the detailed social transport systems, that produced such mass discomfort and dislocation?

Tuesday, 8 May 2007

Labour rules

The Labour party Rule Book (what is usually called a constitution) is an ill-drafted and often silent document, whose difficulty of interpretation is, I suspect, a political tool.

It states:
Leader and deputy leader
(a) There shall be a leader and deputy leader of the party who shall, ex-officio, be leader and deputy leader of the PLP.
(b) The leader and deputy leader of the party shall be elected or re-elected from among Commons members of the PLP in accordance with procedural rule 4B.2, at a party conference convened in accordance with clause VI of these rules.
In respect to the election of the leader and deputy leader, the standing orders of the PLP shall always automatically be brought into line with these rules.
i) When the party is in government and the party leader is prime minister and the party leader, for whatever reason, becomes permanently unavailable,

the Cabinet shall, in consultation with the NEC, appoint one of its members to serve as party leader until a ballot under these rules can be carried out.

ii) When the party is in government and the deputy leader becomes party leader under (i) of this rule, the Cabinet may, in consultation with the NEC, appoint one of its members to serve as deputy leader until the next party conference. The Cabinet may alternatively, in consultation with the NEC, leave the post vacant until the next party conference.

If Blair resigns as Party leader this week, but does not go to the head of state to resign the office of prime minister then the question ‘why not?’ receives no satisfactory reply from the claim that time is needed to organize the election to the Labour party leadership of his successor before the head of state can call on the new Labour leader to form an administration.

The Rule Book ‘s provision for an immediate substitution of a ‘permanently unavailable’ Party leader ‘When the party is in government and the party leader is prime minister ‘ is clearly designed to deal with precisely the contingency of a resigning (or arrested, or dead) Party leader. (It is noteworthy that the Rule book seems to envisage a situation where the Party leader might not be prime minister, although the Party is in government).

Why does Blair not resign from leadership and prime ministerial office, the cabinet appoint Brown leader until there is a confirmatory ballot, and Brown go to the palace to accept the invitation to form an administration? What is the purpose of the hiatus; or have the media misunderstood the process that will occur?

A prime minister has two great powers, to recommend his successor, and to recommend a dissolution. His advice on either of these has not been disregarded for over a century. What is Blair trading for those weeks in which the Labour party acts out an unnecessary electoral process that all know to have an inevitable outcome?
‘Every school - whatever its intake and wherever it is located - is responsible for educating children and young people who will live and work in a country which is diverse in terms of culture, faith, ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds.
.. ministers are concerned some schools are still being monopolised by single racial or religious groups, acting as a breeding ground for extremism..
Draft guidance, which is out to consultation before becoming law later this year, recommends field trips with a racial or faith angle, and inviting religious leaders to schools.’

It may come as a surprise to some to learn that I made every effort to control the socio-economic , cultural, and learning environment in which my children grew up. The same can be safely said of my parents regard for me and my siblings, and for my grandparents conscientious undertaking. What other expression can love for children take, in any family ? Children are loved through action not emotion, however strongly felt.

All cultures are the object of my curiosity, some I admire, some I fear, some I dislike with strenuous objection to their values and norms; most, like my own, are curate’s eggs. To know another culture as I know my own is not possible - ask any ethnographer - and the curate ‘s egg aspect of a culture demands intimate understanding so that the bad bits can be shown, warned against, and if possible counteracted when bringing up the children. Though as there are limits to bossing them about, they will reach their own conclusions for their own world, that stretches far ahead of mine.

It is arrant undiluted nonsense to think enforced proximity and standardised school experiences will create anything valuable in social and cultural understanding where there is not a widespread familial similarity of culture, together with neighbourhood and community ties, already. This is not to deny the value, long recognised, of staying in another country to learn its language, its practices, its take on our world; but that is for a poised observer with a secure cultural base.

It is not for school where, it seems, children's familial cultural acquisition is deliberately to be challenged and undermined by state-enforced multiculturalist falsity placed at the same level of truth as teaching in mathematics, langages, or the sciences.

Cultures are not of equal status and to be inducted into some is to be damaged.
Religious beliefs can be as much the carrier of this damage as the carrier of virtues. Religion’s true place is in the wider family where it can be tempered in its admonitions and applications by understanding. Children have to learn to grasp the fluidity of belief , that rules and instructions are developed by circumstance and change, in their own very local cultural worlds; not be confronted with the shocking in the name of integration and expected to cope better than adults.

Parents know this, and we extend our children’s worlds slowly. If this runs against state policy then at least we are united, whatever our particular culture, in knowing and opposing the primitive savagery of multiculturalism.

Sunday, 6 May 2007

Why are we putting up with this?

England doesn't want Gordon Brown and his Labour MPs sitting for Scottish seats, like him, deciding policy for England in Westminster. Why should it? The Scottish have their own Parliament to make their political choices and have little and spurious claim to involve themselves in ours.

And now it's clear that Scotland doesn't want Labour Scottish MPs sitting for Scottish seats making political choices for Scotland either.

So Scottish Labour MPs sitting for Scottish seats who are members of the Westminster Parliament are going to be making political choices for the English electorate who have not voted for them, and for the Scottish electorate who have voted them out of office.

Dead to rights

Having written all kinds of elaborated comments on Thursday's elections, I like Craig Murray's remarks better:

"For Labour, perhaps the most disastrous thing is the loss of five hundred councillors from their already shattered activist base. Added to the disappearance of their dominance in Wales and Scotland, it is the blow to the morale of their troops, already shrivelled by Iraq, that is so dangerous. Labour now consists of an extraordinary mixture of trade unionists, ageing loyal but unhappy socialists, and aggressive young neo-conservatives. Look to see the latter leaving the sinking ship for the Tories in the next year or two."

Says it all. Whatever is the point of the Labour party when there should be a 21st century party of democratic progressives. We have one right of centre, why are we stuck with a prehistoric reptile on the left of centre in the UK?

Fire and dust

Open fires are beautiful but are they worth it? All that wood carrying, and wood's passengers, who wake up to find themselves in my kitchen having gone to sleep in an oak tree 2 kilometres away. Sometimes they have wings, which are damply unfurled, dried out, then flying and zooming practice takes place - loud, scary and at best distracting. I know as I usher them out of the windows that they're going to die but I don't care. Some of them are big and bitey. Others crawl off quietly and I only guess they are there because of the cat's fascinated attention fixed on a crack in the stone, with an occasional claw extended to try for getting something to make a home run.

Olive wood tends to be a winter retreat for whole armies of ants, who emerge in good order from the end not in the flames but then pour like gaderene swine off the other end and onto the hot metal. Yuk.

Smoke carries tiny particles of ash which arrange themselves in the graceful patterns of cobwebs that would otherwise be invisible (at least till I get round to them).

And everywhere there is dust; remove it and the fires will have it back in next to no time. So I've left it. Till today. Today the hearth in the big kitchen has been swept and mopped, and its copper and brass bits polished; an artistic arrangement of brushed-down, clear of passengers, hibernating or otherwise, wood has been placed between the fire irons.

If anybody puts a match to it, there will be trouble.

Friday, 4 May 2007

Conservatives hold Hatfield (and Welwyn)

Conservative + 3, 35 seats

Labour -2, 10 seats

Liberal Democrat no change, 3 seats

Green -1, 0 seats

Thursday, 3 May 2007

The relevance of Trollope

Since the Brownite attempt to oust the Prime Minister last year, which led to that extraordinary ‘farewell to the Party’ speech by Blair at the last full Labour conference, the government of the UK has become the material of novels.

Facing the electorate is the nightmare experience for any sitting MP; so much so that the rules governing the holding of an office of profit under the Crown were altered to preserve those accepting ministerial appointment from having to refight their seat. For most MPs an election is the bottom line to be evaded at all and any cost, but few considerations of the political settlement after the last war, that watershed of modern UK politics, take this into account.

The steady growth of party grip on elected members also has been a feature of the advance of the Labour party and the decline of the Liberals for even longer.

Unlike the Conservatives and the Liberals, Labour requires its candidates to be members of an affiliated organisation - principally a trade union or the co-operative movement, plus some others, or to have the specific nulla osta of the NEC where such formalized allegiance is lacking. Effectively Labour MPs are mandated in a way that those of other parties are not. This federation of mandated interests that demands, and controls party discipline within Labour and its constituent organisations and funders, does not co-exist easily with our single-member, geographically located, first past the post election system where once elected, an MP at least notionally answers to, and represents, the interests of all within his constituency, supporters, electors, or simply constituents.

Labour has much more in common with the notion of representation used in continental systems of party lists and proportional representation, even while it is forced to conform to UK practice. The conflict between the party structure and its discipline, and continuation in the enjoyment of a seat is particularly sharp for Labour MPs.

If the electorate are seen as spoilers of MPs’ enjoyment of seats, and consultation of the electorate the thing to be avoided at all costs, then the threat of the sitting prime minister’s power of dissolution could take us back to before Labour-style party- controlled politics, - to Trollopeland.

Blair, consummate politician and empathizer that he is, has got this in one; Brown, crude Party controller, and unaware of non-rule bound nuance, freak that he is, has not.

Since the last Labour party conference Blair has been Prime Minister without the encumbrance of the Labour party, except for a Parliamentary Labour Party desperate not to be exposed to an unnecessary general election, particularly one where any number could well lose their seats. All Blair has to threaten is to call one if he is not allowed to run his full term; Brown's levels of voter-put-off , despite his control of the Party delivering the leadership to him, may well provide Labour MPs with the determination to support Blair in his anachronistic adventure.

A careful reading of Blair’s speeches and interview words, coupled with an attempt to grapple with the ill drafted and ambiguous Labour Party Rule Book, the placing of the UK constitution above that Rule Book in importance and relevance to a correct interpretation of what can be done, and bearing in mind that the Labour party is a superseded organisation in everyone’s view but their own, leads to the same conclusion.

Guido thinks Blair might not be going either. If he is going, he has outstanding power to negotiate his departure on his own, and any, terms.

Reality and romanticism

The Scottish people go to the polls today to elect their parliament. Undeniably there is the the most pressure to vote in such a way as to open the path for choosing Scottish independence, since the Act of Union was signed 300 years ago.

What is the form that dissolution of a federal state might take? The most recent dissolution of a European federated state was in 1991.

When Yeltsin decided to disband the Soviet Union he did so constitutionally. Russia and the governments of Ukraine and Belarus were parties to the Treaty of the Union of 1922 and, on 8 December 1991, the leaders of the Russian, Ukrainian, and Belarusian republics met in Belavezhskaya Pushcha near Minsk and signed the Belavezha Accords ‘declaring the Soviet Union dissolved and replaced by the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).’ Gorbachev described this as an unconstitutional coup, but this was rejected, and anyway it could not be halted.
On 12 December 1991 the legislature of the Russian Soviet Republic formally accepted the secession of Russia from the Soviet Union by ratifying the Belavezha Accords and denouncing the 1922 Treaty on the creation of the Soviet Union.
On 17 December ‘twelve of the fifteen soviet republics signed the European Energy Charter in the Hague as if they were sovereign states, along with 28 other European countries, the European Community and four non-European countries.’

On 21 December 1991 ‘representatives of all Soviet Republics, except Georgia, signed the Alma Ata Protocol, confirming the dissolution of the Union ‘ .. 'all former Soviet republics, except the three Baltic States, agreed to join the CIS.’ Russia was authorised to succeed to the UN membership of the USSR, and take the USSR seat in the Security Council. Russia was accepted as the successor state to the USSR on 31 December 1991.

All powers still vested in the presidency of the USSR were ceded to the president of Russia , Yeltsin, and on 26 Decembe 1991, the Supreme Soviet ‘recognized the extinction of the Union and dissolved itself. By 31 December 1991 all official Soviet institutions had ceased operations and individual republics assumed the central government's role.’ (this is an extensively edited and shortened version from Wikipedia’s excellent entry, and from other sources).

The plainness of this account belies the knife-edge avoidance of descent into open violence and armed repression, involving tanks on the streets, the courage of the White House defenders, military mutiny, and attempts at re -seizing power by Soviet elites.

This is the dissolution of a much larger federated state, it faced different problems and was motivated by only some of the forces driving the desire for Scottish independence; furthermore it was the principal state of the Union, Russia, that sought the dissolution.

The United Kingdom does not face economic collapse, despite the doomsayers; England has no major political force seeking dissolution of the Union, quite the contrary, all parties want its maintenance; Scotland will achieve no economic benefits from secession - pace models of celtic tiger and oil-fired growth - indeed the economic evidence points to relative impoverishment; there will be no ready acceptance of its independent status by supra national states or organisations, other member states of the European Union have no desire for such an example to make good , and the EU policy of regionalism is designed to avoid this kind of member- state fragmentation. Losing a Security Council seat (which would surely happen if the UK broke up) flies in the face of the current UK administration’s entire foreign policy and, presumably that of any opposition party. There is no other part of the UK with which Scotland could ally against the Westminster administration - mutatis mutandis the Supreme Soviet - for Wales and Northern Ireland are no Ukraine and Belarus.

To break up a federated Union, then, requires constitutional routes, external overpowering threat of the order of economic collapse, cultural and historical links and memories, powerful allies , and international acquiesence if not encouragement. Scotland has the third of these requirements, and may have the first.

Independence may require also the facing down of physical threat by the Union state, and there has been a lot of practice in just this - ask the people of Northern Ireland.

Wednesday, 2 May 2007

Maps and their meanings

One room has a wall hung with framed maps, some old and beautiful, hand-tinted, others engraved on ivory-paper.

There are modern maps of geological structures and primaeval seabeds, land-locked now, but in their aridity yielding Giotto’s landscapes.

Les Estats de l’Eglise et de Toscane speak of religious power ceded long ago, while Magni ducis Hetruriae status, in ditiones tres Primariis tribus, Urbibus cognomines confims the survival of ancient divides into the present day.

L’Italie, Golfe de Venise lays out Dalmacie with the Republ. de Raguse and its glittering city Ragusa (how ugly the name Dubrovnik) facing its mother state across what now is called the Adriatic.

Across from Venice itself Istria and the city of Fiume speak in the lost voice of d'Annunzio (who, as commander of the 87th fighter squadron "La Serenissima", in aeroplanes of such beauty they take the breath away, will always be a fallen hero).

A map of Illyrium offers the scale in Roman miles of 5000 feet each - I can see more calculation of the ‘190 kilometres divided by five eighths is - what dear - oh, now I’ll have to start again’ kind, during long journeys.

One group of maps is not framed. Folded and repeatedly refolded into a military pocket or pouch sized wedge, they show where they are only by the lettering . There are sets of numbers and marks and scrawls hand-written in, which are to me as indecipherable as the printed cyrillic script denoting this lost terrain. These are the maps of an artilleryman. A pen and ink sketch of huge skies with rolling clouds, orderly family houses with hayricks, groves of poplars beside water, entitled ‘Tappa nella Steppa verso il Don - Luglio 1942’ is framed on the wall; it speaks volumes.

Tuesday, 1 May 2007

From pluralist democracy to dictatorship of the state

1 First make your nomenklatura

Since the end of the eighteenth century there has been long drawn out resistence to democracy as the means for settling conflict of interests. Through the nineteenth and first half of the twentieth century democracy carved a way through institutions and settled power relations across the world. This force, fragmented into the hands of all of us, is still the target of power elites - acting for our own good, acting for the greater good, in truth acting for themselves.
Power elites have many names - nomenklatura is that most associated with avowed statism. To deny democracy, a nomenklatura is essential.

in making a nomenklatura the mind should hold the image of making a hand-beaten mayonnaise. Obsessive narrowness of focus, attention to detail, constant monitoring of condition of the outcome, and infinite patience in the steady drip, drip of the process are pre-requisites.
take two lists: one of positions of authority and of influence in the target structure, the other of those who might be introduced into it.

As you progress in building your mass you will encounter other clots and agglomerations: these will be either weaker than you, in which case they can be whipped into the mass; equal , when alliance is the temporary measure; or more powerful. With the more powerful any accommodation should be made to permit continued smooth growth.

You will be part of a highly unstable overall structure made up of petty hierarchies and your dynamic is to move upwards through them all, while taking their mass into the whole. As you progress those you have subsumed pay in loyalties and should be required also to pay in cash insofar as their means allow.

Agglomeration with the more powerful, often nomenklatura of earlier regimes or extra-territorial power elites, can be achieved principally by purchase (straightforward corruption), by profitable alliance (giving access to the profits from power you have acquired in return for equality of status, and further funding by means of introduction fees), or by exclusion.

By this time you should have achieved sufficient mass to create climates unfavourable to embedded and unresponsive, if not opposed, elites such that they either lose their statuses, and/ or leave. Leaving should not be discouraged in the first instance but later, as your mass grows, it should not allow departure holding any useful wealth or capacity to command service. Later still these, taken by earlier leavers, can be gathered in, as may be the leavers themselves.

At all times an ambience of democratic validity must be maintained until control of a stable power mass has been achieved and a shadowing network of reliable appointees to match democratic institutions at every level has been installed, and is funded and operating.

Once this is so, you are in a position to begin harvesting the benefits of democracy’s over throw (first choice of means is usually the corruption of election processes or their outright denial in the name of some over-arching emergency or threat to the existence of the state itself), and to reinforce your power system with further rewards of appropriate redistribution from the wealth producing sectors. Should the attention waver, or ambient factors intervene such that the mass goes mad, these nomenklatura structures will be sufficiently agglomerated to maintain your power base while restorative homogenisation measures are used.

Control of the military and civil authorities usually offers the quickest way to contain mass breakdown into loss of control and madness.


2 Appropriating resources

3 Going global